After a bee sting, the skin swells up and turns red, followed by shortness of breath and dizziness. No, this reaction is not normal. A life-threatening bee venom allergy is present.
What is a bee venom allergy?
The bee venom allergy is a form of allergies. An allergy manifests itself in an overreaction of the body to actually harmless substances.
Many people experience itching or localized swelling after an insect bite. There is nothing special about it. With a bee venom allergy, however, these symptoms are much more acute and threatening.
They occur within the first minutes or even seconds after the sting and can be life-threatening. Around five percent of the population in Germany suffers from a bee venom allergy.
The causes of a bee venom allergy are not easy to name. After all, the researchers don’t yet know why an allergy develops in the first place.
Assumptions relate to excessive cleanliness, harmful environmental influences, stress and an incorrect diet high in protein and sugar. In order to suffer from a bee venom allergy, at least one bee sting must have occurred in the past.
Only then is there an increased awareness of the bee venom. Accordingly, one can only try to avoid bee stings in order not to suffer from bee venom allergy.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
Slight redness, swelling and itching are a completely normal reaction to a bee sting and show up in almost every victim. These reactions are much more severe in people who are allergic to bee venom. With a bee venom allergy, there are often very pronounced skin changes at the puncture site.
The skin or adjacent joints swell strongly, reddening forms, which is accompanied by violent itching, which often occurs all over the body. Watery and reddened eyes that are itchy and associated with runny nose are typical symptoms of a bee venom allergy.
Some people also suffer from abdominal pain, which is accompanied by nausea and vomiting. In addition, there is often swelling in the face and neck in connection with swallowing and speech difficulties. However, these side effects usually subside after about a day.
On the other hand, allergic reactions that affect the circulation or breathing can be dangerous. The first signs are anxiety, a general feeling of weakness, acute breathing difficulties as well as palpitations and loss of consciousness. These symptoms also often precede anaphylactic shock, which threatens cardiovascular arrest. Here you have to react immediately to relevant symptoms and call the emergency doctor.
Diagnosis & course
If there is a bee venom allergy, every further sting is life-threatening. Symptoms are likely to get worse each time.
If there was only extreme swelling at the puncture site at the beginning (grade 0), nausea and severe itching can occur with the next bite. In grade 3, shortness of breath and dizziness are added. In the worst case (grade 4), the affected person collapses under anaphylactic shock. The greatest danger to life threatens at such a moment!
Sometimes one of the stages is skipped and the first stab leads to life-threatening shock. Since nobody knows in advance if and when this could happen, a bee venom allergy consistently belongs in medical hands. The allergist will use a blood test to find out the severity of the bee venom allergy.
A bee venom allergy can lead to various complications. If those affected are stung by a bee, the typical rash with redness and itching occurs first. Depending on the severity of the allergy, swelling of the neck and face as well as severe swallowing and speaking difficulties can occur.
Other complications are runny nose, watery and itchy eyes, and shortness of breath with a risk of suffocation. As the disease progresses, stomach cramps often occur, which can be associated with nausea and vomiting. The swelling can cut off the blood supply and, depending on the location of the sting, lead to paralysis and movement disorders.
In the case of an existing bee venom allergy, a sting can also trigger palpitations and feelings of weakness, which in turn lead to anxiety and panic. If not treated, the circulatory system collapses, which is accompanied by loss of consciousness. If left untreated, a bee venom allergy can lead to death.
Secondary complications can occur if the bee sting becomes infected or if the person falls unconscious and falls and other injuries occur. During treatment, complications can arise if the person concerned does not have an emergency kit on hand or if the acute treatment on site is improperly or too late.
When should you go to the doctor?
If you already have a bee venom allergy, you should definitely consult a doctor in the event of a bee sting. If certain symptoms appear after the bite, in particular nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath, the emergency doctor must be called immediately. In this case, there is a risk of circulatory shock that can be fatal.
People who do not know whether they are allergic to bee venom should watch themselves or their child closely after a sting. Burning pain and swelling of the puncture site immediately after the sting are normal. After removing the sting and cooling the puncture site with ice cubes or a cold washcloth, however, you should quickly see improvement. If not, there is a suspicion that a person is allergic to bee venom. This suspicion should definitely be clarified by a doctor, as the next sting can be life-threatening in the case of an allergy.
In any case, a doctor’s visit is required if the person concerned still feels severe pain several hours after the bite and the swelling increases instead of receding. In the event of breathlessness or the first signs of shock, the emergency doctor must be notified immediately.
Treatment & Therapy
A bee venom allergy must by no means go untreated. First and foremost, any further stitch should be avoided. This avoidance is easier than with a pollen allergy.
After all, most bees are not of an aggressive species and only sting when they feel threatened. If a bee venom allergy is confirmed, the person affected must carry emergency medication with them around the clock. This includes a breath spray and an adrenaline injection. The treatment of a bee venom allergy always belongs in experienced hands. Currently, desensitization is the only way to treat a bee venom allergy. Here, the patient is injected under the skin in slowly increasing doses of the smallest amount of the allergy-causing bee venom.
Since this procedure can be very dangerous in the case of a bee venom allergy, the therapy is only carried out under medical supervision within a stay of several days in the clinic. Even after that, a bee venom allergy is not yet cured. 90 percent of those treated no longer have an excessively strong reaction after another bite. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last long. For this reason, it must be checked annually whether the protection is still effective.
If not, the desensitization must be repeated. In addition to desensitization, a bee sting should be avoided. If you are allergic to bee venom, you should not go barefoot, use strong scented perfumes and move around excitedly around bees.
Outlook & forecast
A bee venom allergy always requires treatment because it can be life-threatening for those affected. At first, you may only have a slight swelling after a bee sting, but the next one can cause severe itching and nausea. As the symptoms increase from time to time, shortness of breath and dizziness can follow, in the worst case an anaphylactic shock.
However, since there is no guarantee that the reactions will slowly increase, a bee venom allergy must be treated by a doctor, even the first sting can be life-threatening. A doctor’s blood test is the only way to assess how the body reacts to the bee venom.
If the doctor has already diagnosed a bee venom allergy, it is important for those affected to carry an emergency kit with them; in severe cases, desensitization is necessary, which is carried out as part of inpatient treatment under supervision.
In about 90% of the cases, the reactions to a new bee sting are more moderate, but the allergy cannot be cured. The experience of experts shows that the protection only lasts for a limited time and should therefore be checked annually. To minimize the risk, walking barefoot, using intense perfume or panicking when bees are around are taboo.
It does not seem possible to protect yourself from a bee venom allergy. The researchers still know too little about the development of an allergy for that. As a rule, one should make sure that a person allergic to bee venom always has his medication with him in case of an emergency.
This includes a cortisone spray (if you have difficulty breathing) and a syringe set. In the event of a sting, those suffering from a bee venom allergy must immediately and immediately inject the drug into their thighs. If he is no longer able to do this, someone else has to do it.
For this reason, family, friends and work colleagues should be made aware of the bee venom allergy and the correct implementation of the injection.
You can do that yourself
People with a bee venom allergy should avoid bee stings whenever possible. Appropriate clothing and footwear can reliably prevent stings and thus contact with bee venom. Special insect sprays and similar products also help prevent a bite from occurring in the first place. Allergy sufferers should also not wear shiny jewelry and avoid meadows with many bees.
When coming into contact with bees, a sting can be reliably avoided through calm behavior. In an emergency, allergy sufferers should always have a first aid kit with them, including a pre-filled adrenaline syringe, antihistamine, cortisone preparations and cooling spray. Should a sting occur despite all precautionary measures, the necessary measures can be taken immediately. Before doing this, however, the sting and bee must be removed. The bee should not be squeezed in the process, otherwise additional poison could be released.
In addition to first aid, an emergency doctor must be consulted. Immediate rescue service help is required if there are signs of circulatory problems. If you faint, other life-saving measures may need to be taken. The rescue service should then be informed immediately about the allergy and the circumstances surrounding the bite in order to ensure rapid treatment.